11 Misconceptions about Chickens, Eggs, and So On

By Kimberly Willis, Robert T. Ludlow

The very word chicken brings up the image of a coward, but chickens aren’t really cowards. Here’s a compilation of the most common myths and misconceptions about chickens and eggs that you may encounter as a chicken owner — or chicken‐keeper wannabe. Maybe some of these bits of misinformation are actually keeping you from getting some chickens of your own.

Bird flu is a risk to reckon with

Some people want to keep chickens out of cities and suburban areas or are afraid to own chickens because they fear bird influenza. You’re more likely to get human flu or West Nile virus than bird flu, or avian flu.

The fact is, bird flu has been around for a long time. Wild birds carry many strains of bird flu, just as humans carry many strains of human flu. Outbreaks of bird flu have occurred among domestic poultry in the United States, but no incident so far has come from the dreaded H5N1or H7N9 strains, the ones responsible for disease and death in humans in Asia and some other parts of the world. Most strains of bird flu don’t infect humans.

If most of the chickens in your flock suddenly die within a short period of time and without many symptoms, contact your local county Extension office, your state health department, or a local USDA office. Those experts will either give you advice or tell you who to contact. Always wear gloves when handling dead or ill chickens, and keep your hands washed!

You can’t raise chickens if you live in the city

Chickens aren’t just for country folk anymore. Anyone who has a small yard can find a place for a few chickens, even if you live in a bustling urban neighborhood.

Chickens can be raised in cities safely without disturbing the neighbors unduly. Pigeons have been allowed as pets in most cities for a long time, and they require similar care. If your city isn’t one of the enlightened cities that actually allows keeping chickens, fight for new regulations to allow it.

If chickens are kept clean, they don’t smell any more than the flock of Canada geese in the park or the neighbor’s three Great Danes. Hens aren’t any noisier than a blaring car stereo or leaf blower. Chickens allow urban dwellers to have some neat pets that make breakfast for them, too. Chickens are easier to care for than dogs, and they’re quiet at night, unlike the neighborhood cats.

Roosters crow only in the morning

Roosters do greet the sun exuberantly, but they also crow all day long — and sometimes if they’re awakened at night, they crow then, too. Roosters crow like songbirds sing, to mark their territory and make the hens aware of their presence. Healthy roosters crow every chance they get, although crowing frequency and sound vary by individual.

You need a rooster to get eggs

A hen is born with all the eggs she’ll ever have, and nature tricks her into laying them regardless of whether a rooster is around. The eggs are equally tasty, nutritious, and abundant even if a rooster isn’t present.

Hens don’t seem to miss a rooster as long as they have hen friends to chum around with. Of course, none of their eggs can ever become chicks, but many chicken breeds don’t care to be mothers anyway. If you can have roosters, though, it’s fun to watch roosters escort and care for their hens.

Keeping chickens penned is inhumane

Chickens like to be able to roam freely, but it isn’t always safe for them to do so, even in the country. Most livestock is kept confined in some way for its own safety, and chickens are no exception. Your kids aren’t the only ones who like chicken for dinner.

Chickens can be just as happy in a good‐sized pen with nutritious food and a warm, dry place to sleep as your dog is confined to the backyard or your horse is confined to the pasture. They can be allowed supervised roaming from time to time, just like your pets. And confined chickens don’t annoy the neighbors or damage the flower beds.

Confined chickens pose less of a health risk, too, because they aren’t as likely to come in contact with wild birds that carry diseases, such as bird flu.

Chickens are vegetarians

Chickens love meat, including fried chicken (believe it or not, this is true). Chickens are designed to eat just about anything, and they really need some of the amino acids they get from consuming animal‐based proteins. Makers of commercial poultry feed usually add amino acids that are missing from grain‐based diets, or they include safe animal sources of protein.

Big, brown, organic eggs are best in taste and quality

If you eat your own eggs or buy them locally, they’re generally much fresher than store‐bought eggs — and they taste better. Farm‐fresh eggs are generally brown because breeds that lay brown eggs are easier for most owners of small flocks to care for. But if all eggs are equally fresh, there isn’t usually a difference in taste or nutrition.

Green and blue eggs also taste the same as brown or white ones. Likewise, small eggs taste like jumbo eggs. Beyond shell color, chickens that have access to greens or that eat marigold flowers, for example, have eggs with deeper yellow yolks, which appeals to some people.

Fertilized and unfertilized eggs are easily distinguishable

Only a trained eye can tell fertilized and unfertilized eggs apart, unless they’re stored improperly and an embryo begins growing. And blood spots in an egg don’t mean it’s fertilized; they’re simply the result of a vein rupturing as an egg is released from the ovary.

Store‐bought eggs are almost always infertile eggs because commercial breeders don’t keep roosters with hens. Only a store selling locally produced eggs from a small flock with a rooster has a chance of getting a fertilized egg in there. But if you keep a rooster with your hens, chances are very good that the eggs you eat are fertilized. If that bothers you, don’t keep a rooster with your hens — it’s that simple.

Fertilized eggs don’t taste any different than unfertilized ones. And that tiny bit of chicken sperm doesn’t give the egg any nutritional boost, either.

Egg-carton advertising is the absolute truth

When buying eggs, beware: “Cage‐free” doesn’t mean organically raised, and it doesn’t mean the hens roam the farm freely. It usually means the birds were housed in large pens with a little room to move around. Growers refer to this environment as cage‐free, but really, it’s just a giant cage with a lot of chickens crowded into it.

It’s slightly better than being crowded into cages so small a chicken can’t stand up or flap its wings, the way most commercial layers are housed. The cheaper eggs you buy from big‐box stores aren’t going to come from hens that roam freely outside, no matter what deceptive words are used on the carton.

“Organic” doesn’t mean the hens weren’t kept in small cages, either — at least, not yet in the United States. It just refers to the feed they were given, not the conditions they were kept in. In Europe, however, eggs labeled “organic” must come from hens that have access to the outdoors.

Chickens are good for your garden

Many people claim that chickens can till your soil, pull the weeds, eat the bugs, and fertilize the soil, but the truth is that chickens ruin your garden. They till the soil, all right — right after you plant that crop of beans. They eat the weeds — along with all the lettuce. And while they eat the tomato worms, they take a bite out of each tomato.

Chickens belong in the garden only in the fall, just before you clean it all out but after you’ve harvested all you want to eat. They can harvest leftovers and eat bugs then. If you want them to till the soil, fall is the time, long before you plant again.

Chicken manure is good for the garden only after it has been composted. Fresh chicken manure deposited in the garden burns plants and brings the risk of salmonella and E. coli bacteria contaminating your fresh veggies.

Chickens are dumb and cowardly

As birds — or animals, for that matter — go, chickens are pretty intelligent. They can learn to count and they understand the concept of zero. They can be trained to do tricks and to recognize colors. They can figure out how to get out of almost any pen you put them in, sooner or later. Chickens and other birds have been observed planning future actions or anticipating reactions to an action they’re going to take. And chickens learn by observing and copying other chickens.